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The McGinnis Clan

A Proud Heratige






The McGinnis legend begins thousands of years ago with an expeditionary force of 160 ships from what is now Corunna in far northern Spain. The Book of Invasions tells how Ir, the fifth son of King Milesius and Queen Scotia, and his seven brothers invaded Ireland about 450 BC (or 1699 BC depending on your chronology). While landing in a storm which dispersed the fleet, five of the sons of Milesius drowned. But Ir's son Heber Donn and his three surviving uncles managed to rout the natives in battle, naming the island Ireland after Ir. Heber Donn became ruler of northern Ireland, later called Ultonia, now Ulster.

The Ultonians ruled Ulster for seven centuries, and one of them, Rory Mor, became king of all Ireland. According to the Franciscan historian Michael O' Cleirigh (born 1580) in the Annals of the Four Masters, the tribe of the McGinnises (Clanna Aodha or Hugh) was chief of Rory's clan (Clanna Rory). But in 332 AD, the forces of the southern O'Neills attacked King Saraan, ruler of Ulster. After a seven-day battle, his palace of Emania was burned and his Clanna Rory was driven back to the far northeastern counties of Down and Antrim, where Saraan established the kingdom of Dal Araidhe or Uladh. The Irish bard John O'Dugan wrote: "Magenis the illustrious and beautiful; They selected the warm hilly country; They were the Lords of all Uladh." Part of Dal Araidhe, now County Down, was called Iveagh, and so the historical records refer to the McGinnises as rulers of Ulster, Dal Araidhe, Iveagh or Clan Aodha.

The next time you meet a wizened Irish bard (in extremely short supply these days), you can summarize the McGinnis ancestry to him by quickly rattling off the following names: Milesius, Ir, Heber Donn, Crimthann Ollamh Foidiah (27th monarch of Ireland who first instituted the Irish Parliament at Tara), Rodricus Magnus or Rory Mor (86th monarch of Ireland in 151 BC), his son Kionga (where the McGinnis families separate from the O'Farrells), Conall Cearnach (warrior of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster), Fiacha Araidhe (37th King of Ulster and namesake of Dal Araidhe), Saraan (the last Ultonian king of Ulster), Eochaidh Cobha (namesake of Iveagh, County Down), Caolha (123rd monarch of Ireland), Aongus or Aneas Mor (from which the name McGinnis comes from), Aongus Guinness (107th generation from Ir and the first to use the McGinnis surname, in the 11th century), Murtoch Riaganach, and Shawn Ryan McGinnis (born in the very late 20th century). We're skipping a few generations here and there over the last few millennia to keep from wearing out your tongue.

Before Ireland's final conquest by England in the 17th century, the McGinnis and O'Neill clans were the main powers in Ulster. The McGinnis clan defeated English forces in 1380 and 1418, but the English defeated them in 1396, 1400, 1420, 1424 and 1453. One reference calls Dundrum Castle, near Newcastle, the clan stronghold during the 15-17th centuries. The castle at Iveagh, County Down, is the traditional family seat.

In the 16th century the McGinnis chiefs were often in conflict with Catholic authorities, and many became Protestants. Two 16th century Irish bishops who served under the Church of England were named McGinnis - one of the diocese of Down. However, by the 17th century the McGinnis chiefs of the time had revived their loyalty to Ireland's ancient power system. A McGinnis was once again Bishop of Down, but this time he was Catholic and Franciscan. In the Cromwellian Revolution of 1641-1653, the family heads enthusiastically served the Royalist cause against the Puritans and thus lost much of their land, which was then planted with English (not the usual Scottish) settlers.

Throughout the 17th century, the McGinnis family consistently opposed the English, supporting the attempts of James II to regain the throne. Lord Iveagh Brian Magennis led a Jacobite regiment himself and served in James' 1689 parliament in Dublin. But after the conclusive English victory at the battle of Boyne in 1690 the McGinnis clan finally lost their wide hereditary lands in County Down. Many of them joined foreign militaries as Wild Geese, serving in the Catholic armies of Austria, France and Spain. Today Northern Ireland is mostly Scots-Irish, descendants of a large group of Scots Protestant immigrants whom the English government brought to Ireland deliberately to dilute Catholic influence there. Possibly, during this troubled time, some of the Protestant McGinnises lived for a while in Scotland before returning to their homeland.

The name McGinnis (which has at least sixteen variants) comes from the Irish words "Mag" (son of) and "Aonghusa/Aonguis" (great strength) or variously "son of Adam" or "son of Angus." In the Irish language it is pronounced like "mac-oneese." In Ireland it is usually spelled Magennis; in America it is usually spelled McGinnis. The arms of the McGinnis clan are a golden lion on a green shield surmounted by a red right hand. King Milesius had three lions as his crest. After dividing Ireland between themselves, the families of his sons Heber, Heremon and Hyrus each took one lion on their own shield and banner, but each took a different color. And why a red hand? The emblem is claimed by the O'Neills, McGinnises -- and the O'Bryans. It comes from a chieftain who won a realm in a boat race by being the first to touch land. Falling behind in the race but determined not to lose it, our ancestor cut off his own hand and threw it to shore -- thereby touching the land first.

If you ever want to order a McGinnis coat of arms, tell the man behind the counter, "Vert, a lion rampant or, on a chief argent a dexter hand erect, couped at the wrist gules. Crest: a boar passant proper langued gules armed and hoofed or. Supporters: two bucks gules langued azure, crined ungules and gorged with collars gemel or. Dicto: Sola Salus Servire Deo." And the man will say, "Coming right up." The "dicto" or slogan roughly translates as "Well-being is only found in serving God."



~Sean McGinnis
Sept. 21, 2005